Tips from a Lead Software Engineer
Question: What do you do at Ungerboeck?
Joe: I manage the CRM team which handles a lot of the account contact, opportunity area of the software. We work on customer relationship management and keep track of what salespeople would use. For example, if the salesperson has a new account, they’d enter the phone number, address, notes, etc. into our system. They’d do the same with individual contacts for each account. They may also enter a prospective account and information about the potential revenue, source of the lead, and such.
Question: What’s a quick summary of what you do on a daily basis?
Joe: I serve as both a leader and mentor to my team and handle some of the more complicated stories. We're an agile shop, which means every two weeks we have what's called a sprint, and we work on particular stories. I make sure all the stories get completed correctly and that the right tasks are given to the right individual based on their ability level. I'll take a story for myself, too. At the end of those two weeks, I'll do code reviews with my team to make sure that their code has good quality and that there aren't any major problems with it performance-wise. I spend probably 75% of my day coding and 25% coaching.
Question: What kind of education did you need for your position?
Joe: I graduated from Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, with a four year degree in MIS, or Management and Information Systems. I could've gone with a computer science degree and minor in math, but I wanted to broaden my skill set a bit more. I went the Phi Beta Kappa route to make my resume more impressive, so I needed a Bachelor of Arts, a foreign language, etc.
Question: What’s the difference between a Computer Science and MIS degree?
Joe: Computer science is more a mathematics course base. The MIS degree is more along the lines of business. So you have marketing and management courses instead of discrete mathematics, differential equation stuff. It's geared more towards somebody who wants to eventually become more on the managerial side.
Question: Do you use that different knowledge on a daily basis?
Joe: I wouldn't say so. College teaches you how to learn and is more about understanding. In computer science, we're faced with challenges every day and an ever-changing technology, so the courses you take in college won’t necessarily be relevant to technology five or ten years later. It's more about having an array of subjects you're familiar with and knowing you’ll have to learn on your own and continue that learning throughout your career.
Question: What skills beyond those from school does someone need to be successful in your current position?
Joe: Well, the key is understanding how to build software that others can use and understand. When you leave school, you’ll be on a team for a software project, not by yourself. You’ll have to work well with others and understand how your piece fits into the puzzle. It's not as simple as solving a problem anymore. It's understanding how that relates to the bigger picture.
Question: If you could’ve done anything differently in preparing for your current career, what would it be?
Joe: I really don't have any regrets since I've been at USI for eight years now, but the main thing for college level kids is to get real-world experience. Go get internships, or if your school only teaches C++, familiarize yourself with another language to show potential employers you have a desire to learn and are willing to do that independently.
Question: What do you like most about your current position?
Joe: I like working with my team. If you treat the people you're working with the right way, they're going to have respect and that will be a two-way street. It's hugely satisfying when I give one of my team members a harder task, and they do it to the best of their ability even if it’s less fun. It's nice to know that regardless of how tough the problem is, the people here are going to give it their best try.
Question: What is the most challenging part of your current position?
Joe: Probably trying to understand what our customers really need and want from a software perspective. We have a variety of customers, and it's difficult sometimes to narrow the focus. There are many things we could be doing, and prioritizing those is a challenge to say the least.
Question: How has your preparation to this point helped you deal with those issues?
Joe: I've been fortunate enough to talk with clients quite a bit and to go to our conferences, so I can understand how our current clients use our existing software and the areas that we could improve.
Question: In the future, how do you think your career path will change?
Joe: Well, I'd like to become a manager someday but still be a technical person. One who is hands on, understands the technology, and can still answer the employees’ questions. I may not be able to code every day, but I'd still like to be able to mentor others and help them improve.
Question: How do you think software engineering will change in the future?
Joe: I think the amount of things you’ll be able to do on a computer will exponentially grow. We'll have to look at what we do from a mobile perspective, like supporting various platforms. People aren't going to want to buy $100,000 software packages. You'll have to provide expert level service right off the bat. It’ll have to be easy to implement and understand. You can't have 100,000 line software programs that take three months to implement. We've got to be much quicker and develop for many platforms in a short amount of time.
Question: What advice would you give to someone who is looking to go into your field?
Joe: Mainly, make sure it's something you really enjoy. There are so many areas of computing, from software to networking, hardware, etc. Get experience in it, and make sure your chosen field is something you can picture doing for 30+ years. One thing I look for when interviewing people is being able to personally identify. I don't necessarily care if they get a question right or wrong. I want them to be truthful, but also demonstrate willingness to learn. If someone comes out of college with course work and no experience, that doesn't demonstrate enough motivation for me to want to hire that person.
Ungerboeck Software International is currently hiring for positions in St. Louis. If you are interested in working with the world leader in end-to-end event management software for meetings, exhibitions and associations, visit http://ungerboeck.com/AboutUSI/CareerOpportunities.aspx for more information.